Think tanker turned public affairs professional – and I run a non-profit in my spare time.
BA (Hons), Philosophy, Politics & Economics and Graduate Diploma in Law
At the start of your career you Interned with an MP, MEP and US Congressman: what experience/knowledge did you gain from each?
Obviously I gained from the experience of seeing each of the institutions in Westminster, Brussels and DC first-hand. Above all, it dispelled any misunderstandings about what a politician’s office is really like, and made clear the pressures they and their teams face.
How did you go about making the move from political offices into public affairs?
I talked to people in public affairs about their jobs, and decided it was for me. I was interested in something with a clear career structure, with more of a commercial and private sector angle. Then I started applying and going for job interviews.
What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?
I meet the staff I manage more or less daily to agree future activity and priorities.
Obviously I spend a lot of time meeting or on the phone to clients. I do a lot of research work for them, and some of the biggest impact we’ve had is through reports I wrote that combined new data on an existing problem with suggested solutions for policymakers.
Then there’s the broad category of new business – work to market the firm and identifying and pursuing potential clients.
Has your Legal Diploma added value to your public affairs work?
Legal training and a decent general knowledge of the law are very helpful, but they don’t come into my day to day work very much.
What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?
Many of the clients I work with are exceptional at what they do – so in itself it’s exciting to be part of their teams and their strategy. It’s enormously rewarding to be able to add value to their business and come up with ideas to boost their bottom line.
I enjoy working with a team, managing good people and the range of individuals you get to meet in public affairs.
I like that many of the things I’d be doing anyway – campaigning, attending political events and reading about policy – help me do the job I’m paid to do.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given during your career?
That virtually all employers want the same two things above all from their staff: people who can set priorities and can get work done fast.
What advice would you give to Parliamentary staff who are interested in moving into Public Affairs?
Don’t stay in Parliament too long before applying. Get a really good grasp of Parliamentary procedure and get to know lots of MPs and researchers. Get to know your way around Microsoft Excel and government data - download a few spreadsheets from data.gov.uk.
Healthcare, energy, financial services, planning and defence are the policy areas that provide the great bulk of lobbying work. Get to know a bit about all of them and a lot about at least one. A firm with health clients, for example, will look fondly on any interviewee who can casually explain what a CCG is, or the NHS Outcomes Framework.
Send your CV to senior people at firms you’d like to work for even if they’re not recruiting at the time. Many of them will be happy to have a quick coffee in or near their offices. It’s good intelligence and valuable interview practice - and if you impress them they’ll remember you next time they’re hiring.
Don’t only ask lobbyists you know if their firm is hiring – ask them what the job is like. It can vary so much from firm to firm. The better you understand public affairs work, the better you will be at explaining to interviewers how it plays to your strengths.
How relevant is being a Political Party member for Public Affairs work?
You’re either a true believer or you’re not, and no one should join a party unless they broadly support it. But at least for agency roles I think it’s a massive advantage. Alex Singleton has a great article addressing this on his blog. The problem for those who aren’t active in politics outside working hours is that they’re competing with so many people who are. The impact of attending any one event is usually negligible – although jobs, new business and big wins for existing clients can all happen this way. But over the years going to one or two Westminster events a week, and knocking on doors for candidates and MPs, really adds up. You end up with a great personal network and a much deeper understanding of policy, and of the motivations of and pressures on inhabitants of the political world. We all have other interests to pursue, but it’s worth asking yourself why you entered public affairs if attending a think tank event and chatting to attendees over a glass of wine sounds like a waste of an evening to you.
When you’re getting started in particular an easy way to show added value to a boss is picking up knowledge and contacts that they lack. It gives confidence to clients, too, if you can tell them things they couldn’t have just read on Guido or CoffeeHouse.
You can do some of the above without joining a party - but it tends not to happen that way. In theory, people with partisan leanings can struggle to understand others’ views, or fail to get on with people with different views, but I’ve never actually met anyone like this who works in public affairs. Either they don’t enter the industry or they aren’t offered jobs in it. Lobbyists of all political colours tend to be sociable and easy to get on with.
How relevant is Degree subject for a public affairs career?
If you have no other political experience, a Politics degree reassures potential employers that you know at least the basics. Otherwise, the advantage is in what you know rather than whether or not it came from a Politics degree.
I think it could excite some firms if you could show them how your degree in business or marketing could help them grow. I am not aware of mathematical training being consciously sought out, but I think the industry is moving more and more towards people who are comfortable with data. A solid spreadsheet is far more useful for persuading policy-makers than a boozy lunch.